Can Places Think?

Ares Kalandides place agency intentionalityby Ares Kalandides

The short answer is, of course, that they can’t. Places – even if we think of them as formed through social relations and not as mere physical locations – simply can’t think. They’re not human; they’re not even animal. Social relations are not just the sum of individual actions, but rather a much more complex outcome of human interaction. So, if places can’t think, why do we keep reading academic papers where London “intends to show” something or Berlin “aspires to be” whatever? As I have written before, this figure of speech is metaphorical: places are personified and given agency to avoid more complex phrasing. I firmly believe this is not only wrong, but can lead to risky oversimplifications.


“Place is generative, but it has no agency and certainly no intentionality.”

It is not that we cannot understand places as political actors in themselves. Cities and countries in a sense are actors in many cases. Berlin plays a particular role in European politics and London in world finance. However, I’d rather conceptualise that as a generative capacity of place. As geographers since the 1970s were able to show, space (and place) is an outcome of social relations, but is also capable of producing new ones. Berlin is the outcome of physical space and its interactions with social relations in that particular location over time. However this particular juxtaposition of those particular social relations in that particular location is not only an outcome, but can generate new relations, as different elements interact again in ever changing constellations. So, places are outcomes, but they are also processes and generative of new social relations. But places don’t have agency, and certainly no intentionality.

The way we use language is not without consequences for the ‘real world’. It is both a sign of how we think, but more than this, it can form thinking. Thinking of place as having agency can lead to dangerous localisms and nationalisms. When you keep reading of the UK demanding a “hard Brexit”, you will tend to believe that the whole country is caught in a fight against Europe. But what about the 48% who voted to remain? Do they also demand hard Brexit? And will other Europeans now start seeing a hard Brexiter every single Brit? When you read that “Germany demands more cuts from Greece in the Eurozone crisis”, do you really believe that it reflects the actions of every German instead of those of particular groups and their interests? It is a very easy next step to turn “the Greeks against the Germans” and vice versa. The UK vs. Europe or Germany vs. Greece are not only innocent oversimplifications. They are clearly rhetorical devices meant to conceal group (including class) interests.

“The way we use language is not without consequences for the ‘real world'”.

So what can be done about it? How can we express something similar without falling into the trap of the personification of Place? There are several ways this can be done: You can choose to avoid the use of a specific subject in the clause or – even better in my opinion – you can choose to name the agent. For example: Certainly not all Berliners want their home to become a world city, but many surely do. So, instead of “Berlin aspires to become a world city” rather choose “There is the intention to turn Berlin into a world city” or better still “The current government [or whoever it is] intends to position Berlin as a world city”. The latter makes agency transparent and shows the power relations in Place. Only by naming the powerful agents behind particular choices, can you conceive of ways of dealing with them. If we keep on ascribing agency to places, or even worse, ascribing intentionality to them, we risk masking the real power games behind Place.

 

Representations of Place in Music

Steve Knightly

by Dr Heather Skinner

I have always been interested in folk music, from being introduced to Welsh folk songs at school, and then through attendances at folk clubs in my teens, to much more recently when I ran a folk music club in my local town before I emigrated to Corfu in 2013. Around 15 years ago, at a folk festival in the South West of England, I first encountered the duo “Show of Hands”, although Steve Knightley and Phil Beer had been performing together as Show of Hands since the mid-1980s, and have performed as a trio with Miranda Sykes on and off since 2004. Show of Hands performs and records a mix of traditional and original songs. Apart from the sheer exuberance of the performers, what really struck me about their music was the inextricable link between their songs and the places about which the lyrics related. Indeed, the band’s own Facebook page stresses that “being rooted in Devon and the West Country … is part of the very fabric of this band and our material is closely entwined with its social history and geography”. Continue reading “Representations of Place in Music”

An Itinerant Sense of Place

Sense of Place

by Ares Kalandides*

Place is an important category in the construction of our individual and social identities. We develop a sense of place both by projecting ourselves onto places and identifying with them in myriad ways. We may, for example, use place names to identify ourselves (“I live in Berlin”, “I am from Greece”); we may be more or less attached to particular places, as they become markers of who we are (“I am a new Berliner”).

By Place, I do not only mean the “bricks and mortar” of a locality, but rather the interaction between the physicality and the social relations that come together in a particular locus. Place attachment then is with people and their cultures, with their food, language and behaviour – as much as with public spaces, landscapes or buildings. It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives. Tourists often behave differently at home than when they travel, although place attachment and responsibility may not be the only reason behind it (throwing away behavioural norms as part of the travel experience or the relative anonymity and lack of social control may be other explanations).

“It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives.”

In a world where many people (though by no means all) move constantly, is there still such a thing as place responsibility and indeed the space for place-based politics? Or as Doreen Massey put it back in 1991, is there a “global sense of place”? Continue reading “An Itinerant Sense of Place”

“Unveiling the sediments of a lost landscape”: William Titley’s Demolition Street

williamtitley-slider

A collection of door knobs. Unclaimed mail. An ironing board. Through recording the evacuation of one Lancashire community, finds Steve Millington, the artist William Titley has made permanent a series of internal displacements, and the exposed the true meaning of “placelessness”…

by Dr Steve Millington

Yi Fun Tuan established the term “topophilia” in the 1970s. An awkward word, but it describes an emotion we all share, a deep attachment to place. We might express this through love for one’s country or perhaps through civic pride, but our strongest bonds are to ordinary places connecting our everyday habits and routines, what we might call home.

Home is perhaps the most important place in our lives. Beyond basic human needs of shelter and security, home is ideally a place where we can escape, be ourselves, find comfort, rest, experiment, create, laugh, dance, without too much concern about what others might think. Here we build and maintain the social relations necessary to support a sense of belonging considered essential for well-being and happiness. We only have to imagine the plight of millions of refugees who have had to leave their homes, neighbourhoods, the places where they were born, schooled, worked, ate, played, to realise how our lives might quickly untangle into a precarious state. Feeling ‘out of place’, feeling that you don’t belong can be soul destroying. Continue reading ““Unveiling the sediments of a lost landscape”: William Titley’s Demolition Street”

Places and figures of speech: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche

 

figures of speech metaphor metonymy Ares Kalandides

by Ares Kalandides

This image, which appeared on TIP’s (Berlin city magazine) Facebook page on 29th July 2016, depicts a map of Berlin, where boroughs have been replaced by types of fast food. I find the map very funny, but also an interesting case to think about place-related connotations. Before I get into that, let me explain what is what (starting from the outer left and then moving clockwise). Spandau: “SPANDAU”; Reinickendorf: “Currywurst (West)”; Pankow: “Vegetarian Spring Roll”; Lichtenberg: “Nr 131”; Marzahn-Hellersdorf: “Pelmeni”; Treptow-Köpenick: “Currywurst (East)”; Neukölln: “Döner & Schawarma”; Tempelhof-Schöneberg: “Foccacia & Co”; Steglitz-Zehlendorf: “We don’t serve fast food”; Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf: “Crunchy rolls with Tête de moine from Butter Lindner”; Mitte: “Sushi & Sashimi”; Mitte: “Bio-Burger”. Continue reading “Places and figures of speech: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche”

Meet the IPM: Interview with Dr Ares Kalandides

Ares KalandidesAres Kalandides is Senior Fellow and Director of the Institute of Place Management as well as founder and CEO of the Berlin-based consultancy Inpolis. He has consulted place managers around the world, and implemented various projects in many different locations. He is an Adjunct Professor at New York University in Berlin, and a guest lecturer at the Technical University and the Hertie School of Governance – both in Berlin. Ares has a degree in French studies and holds a PhD in urban and regional planning from the School of Architecture at the National Technical University of Athens. His current research includes: migration, citizenship and identity; participatory methods in urban development; urban social policy; and local economic development. His most recent publications are on practices of solidarity in crisis-stricken Athens. Continue reading “Meet the IPM: Interview with Dr Ares Kalandides”

Performing identity and place-imaging

PLATT VIsualby Louise Platt*

The research community within the IPM is constantly challenging how we think about place and what place means. I am concerned about people (and even their non-human companions!) in places. I have long struggled, as many academics have, with the idea of place-making and the queasy notion of wading into communities and suggesting that these places can be ‘better’. My own PhD research examined communities how they shape their own identities through drawing or resisting place-imaging projects. By spending time with community groups and undertaking participant observation at official and unofficial Liverpool Capital of Culture events (both during and after 2008) I was able to understand how local people performed identities which related to their sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods and the wider city. It considered the balance between creative improvisation and the constraints of social and cultural norms in forming identities.

Continue reading “Performing identity and place-imaging”

Communities of exclusion: Some thoughts on the concept of community

IMG_5226

by Ares Kalandides

A bizarre piece of news caught my attention recently: A Kosovarian family was allegedly denied citizenship in Switzerland, not for failing to comply with the formal requirements, but for not adapting to the local norms. The transgressions (according to the article) were that the family wore tracksuits instead of jeans and that they did not greet people in passing. If this is true, it sheds a strange light on the very concept of community, which thus appears inward-looking, conservative and exclusive.

Indeed, I find it increasingly difficult to think of the concept in other terms and I believe we should be careful if we want to use it in any meaningful way. Community, the way I understand it, is first of all a group of people who share something – an idea, a common feature or a place[1].  Place in particular is generally entangled in a strong imagery of belonging (communities are groups of people linked to each other through their belonging to a place), though we can clearly think of non place-based communities (internationalism was founded on exactly this idea).   I see several problems related to the above.

Continue reading “Communities of exclusion: Some thoughts on the concept of community”

Place, Image and Identity – from UK canals to fridge magnets

Photo by Ian Southerin
Photo by Ian Southerin

by Heather Skinner*

Day 4, the final day of our 3rd Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places saw a very eclectic mix of research, but all on the topics of Place, Image and Identity. Dr Julia Fallon presented research into how to gather and use the stories of the many users of Britain’ canal networks; Dr Heather Skinner, Chair of the Symposium, presented the findings of her research into business tourists’ perceptions of conference destinations; Professor Eli Avraham informed delegates of the ways special events can be used to alter destination images. After lunch, Dr Amos S. Ron talked to delegates about the way travel itineraries, a rather underexplored source of travel writing, can provide insights into the way destinations are perceived by various organising groups; Dr Guenther Botschen, who had spent the previous afternoon in Arillas, presented delegates with the theoretical underpinnings of a really practical brand-driven identity exercise that can aid both the design and the development of places. Our final paper was presented by Professor Cathy Parker, on the topics of fridge magnets, a rather ubiquitous souvenir, and what a semiotic analysis of these can tell us about the way place images are chosen, promoted and consumed. Continue reading “Place, Image and Identity – from UK canals to fridge magnets”